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U.S. lawmakers push to expand Long COVID treatment

April 10, 2022, 6:53 PM UTC

A bill to increase funding for Long Covid treatment and clinics marks the latest push from lawmakers to confront chronic health problems related to the coronavirus that affect millions of Americans.

The Treat Long Covid Act is a joint effort from Senator Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat, and Representative Ayanna Pressley, a Massachusetts Democrat. Both have been involved in efforts to bolster federal support for Long Covid research, treatment and education.

Earlier this week, President Joe Biden issued a memorandum directing Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to create the first interagency research action plan regarding Long Covid. Pressley and Duckworth’s bill would authorize HHS to award grants of as much as $2 million toward the creation or expansion of multidisciplinary clinics.

“There’s no federal program that’s focused on expanding treatment options,” Pressley said. “So our Treat Long Covid Act is the first of its kind in expanding access to Long Covid clinics.”

There is currently no centralized database on Long Covid centers nationwide, something their bill is intended to remedy.

But funding could prove difficult as pandemic dollars dwindle and lawmakers clash over aid legislation. The Biden administration’s proposed $22.5 billion in extra coronavirus funding has been slashed to just $10 billion and has yet to clear the Senate with members about to leave for a two-week recess. 

“We know that this virus is going to reoccur, and if I don’t have support now, I will eventually get support,” Duckworth said. The legislation “doesn’t have to move on its own if there’s some sort of vehicle we can we can add these things to or whatever to move forward. No pride in authorship here.”

For patients with Long Covid, an assortment of symptoms can persist weeks, even months, after the initial infection has passed. The condition remains largely a mystery to researchers. The different health problems, from respiratory to  neurological to gastrointestinal, often vary from patient to patient, and have made diagnosis, treatment and data collection a challenge.

Pressley said she’s been told by dozens of people that their struggles go beyond physical ailments; some develop mental health conditions, including brain fog. Others have been unable to attend school or work. 

“That’s exactly why we’ve introduced the Treat Long Covid Act, so that we get a federal response that meets the extent of how deep the hurt is,” she said.

The bill would also ensure that people are not refused treatment because of denial by insurance companies or method of diagnosis, the lawmakers said. They added that some people have been turned away because they could not provide a positive Covid test— even if their infection occurred before tests were widely available. It would also ensure underserved communities are given priority in grant funding and that recipients of grants submit annual reports based on patient evaluations.

Biden has also asked for $20 million in his administration’s 2023 budget request to set up new centers for excellence to research best treatment and care options for Long Covid patients.

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